Category Archives: Local News

Marijuana Grower Pleads Guilty

Sierra National Forest Marijuana Cultivator Pleads Guilty

Submitted by the Department of Justice

FRESNO, Calif. — Humberto Ceballos-Rangel (Ceballos), 37, of Mexico, pleaded guilty today in connection with his involvement in a large marijuana cultivation operation found by law enforcement last summer in the Sierra National Forest in Madera County, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.

Ceballos pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to manufacture, to distribute, and to possess with the intent to distribute 50 or more marijuana plants. According to court documents, Ceballos and his co-conspirators caused significant damage to public land and natural resources. Ceballos was found at a campsite within a marijuana cultivation site with 5,904 marijuana plants. A firearm and ammunition were recovered from a vehicle associated with the cultivation operation. The cultivation operation caused significant harm to the environmental landscape. Native vegetation was cut to accommodate the marijuana plants, foot trails, and cooking and sleeping areas. Water was also diverted from a nearby creek to irrigate the marijuana plants. Agents found and removed from the site insecticide, propane tanks, and a large quantity of trash and hose line. Ceballos has agreed to make restitution to the U.S. Forest Service for the costs of cleaning up the site.

The charges against Ceballos’ co-defendants, Francisco Javier Gomez-Rodriguez, 38, Alejandro Ramirez-Rojo, aka Alejandro Ramires, 31, also citizens of Mexico, and Anthony Isaac Santibanez, 20, of Woodlake, California, remain pending. These charges are only allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Ceballos is scheduled for sentencing before U.S. District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill on April 18, 2016. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), California Department of Justice’s Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP), California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Madera County Narcotic Enforcement Team (MADNET). Assistant United States Attorney Karen A. Escobar is prosecuting the case.

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Southern Inyo Hospitals License suspended

Southern Inyo Hospitals License suspended

Submitted by Southern Inyo Hospital

The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) has temporarily suspended the license of Southern Inyo Hospital (SIH) following a site survey on January 13th, according to Alan Germany, Chief Restructuring Officer at SIH.

SIH staff has readied the facility for the survey and the required staffing for dietary, pharmacy, nursing, physician, radiology and laboratory were all in place. According to a telephone conversation on January 14th, between Dr. Karen Smith, Director of CDPH, and Richard Fedchenko, SIHD Board President, the survey failed for two deficiencies.

The first was regarding physicians. At an earlier meeting of the Southern Inyo Healthcare District held on January 12th, Dr. Parmod Kumar was given hospital privileges and appointed as Medical Director of SIH. He will serve as the hospital physician on call 24/7 for several days or even a week at a time. What was missing in the survey was the second physician to whom Dr. Kumar would pass relevant files and care information on the patients as he turned those responsibilities over at the end of his duty cycle. That is already being addressed by the new management team at SIH, Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA) with the preparation of contracts with a number of qualified physicians who are available to serve SIH.

The second deficiency was the absence of the nursing and support staff for the Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF). HCCA had not been notified by the CDPH survey team in advance that they expected to see this team in place. That will be easily rectified for the next survey.

Dr. Smith indicated that CDPH has been working hard to save the hospital and that it is the position of the CDPH that the applicable law required suspension of the license because the hospital was not yet in total compliance. She further assured SIH that re-licensing will be easy when the hospital is fully operational and ready to admit patients. There is no fine for being in suspension, and Dr. Smith advised that the suspension of the license will have no effect on the hospital’s standing with Medicare and MediCal. Reimbursements from these governmental payers will continue for bills already submitted and the new billing may resume when the suspension of the license is removed. Dr. Smith also advised that the process will not be made more difficult simply because the license has been suspended. She added that the survey team is quite busy but will be standing by to give SIH high priority once the hospital is ready for another survey to be conducted.

A court action to prevent CDPH from independently suspending or forcing the hospital to voluntarily suspend the license was unsuccessful.

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Whitney Portal Road Reconstruction Set

Whitney Portal Road Reconstruction Planned for 2016

Significant Impacts to Access, Parking

submitted by the Inyo National Forest

The Whitney Portal Road Reconstruction is planned for the 2016 season under a funding request from Inyo County. The road will be re-paved and needs significant repairs for safety. The project begins just west of Lone Pine and ends just east of Whitney Portal.

Whitney Portal is the most popular trailhead on the forest; with hikers applying, by lottery, to ascend the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. Mt Whitney is also the southern terminus of the John Muir Trail (JMT).

“There is no way to complete this project without having a significant impact on visitors to the Whitney Portal area,” said Ed Armenta, Forest Supervisor. “The road has only one ingress/egress and the already limited parking will be much reduced. Accessing the area may be, at times, difficult and frustrating. Your planning and patience will help complete this very important project.”

Visitors have long used roadside parking as an overflow. During construction near Whitney Portal, this roadside parking will not be available.

Construction delays will be up to three hours, twice a day. Visitors to Whitney Portal should anticipate that there may not be a parking space available.

Visitors to Whitney Portal should consider carpooling, being dropped off by friends, or shuttle services available from the Lone Pine area.

Visitors who want to hike Mt. Whitney are strongly encouraged to enter the lottery since walk-in permits will not be issued when parking is unavailable. Please apply via www.recreation.gov.

See the tips below  for planning your trip to Whitney Portal this year.

Accessing Whitney Portal: How To Make it Work
• If you do plan to visit Whitney in the summer of 2016, please pack your patience and carefully plan your trip to avoid the construction delays and the parking problems.

• Check the construction schedule before you head up to Whitney Portal (Twitter (@mtwhitneyinfo), at the Interagency Visitor Center (760-876-6222), on the web (http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/passes-permits/recreation/?cid=stelprdb5150055). There may be times when delays and parking are little impacted. There may be periods with 30 minute delays, and two 3-hour delays per day in the peak of construction.

• Please be prepared that there may not be a parking space available for you.

• Consider carpooling, being dropped off by friends, or explore local shuttle services.

• To help alleviate the problem of reduced parking, long-term parking will not be permitted. No overnight parking is available for anyone not starting and ending a hike at Whitney Portal. If you are entering or exiting the Whitney Trail via the Pacific Crest Trail, the High Sierra Trail, the JMT or other popular long-distance routes, you may not park or stage a vehicle at the trailhead.

• Long-term parking may be available in Lone Pine. Check with the Lone Pine Chamber of Commerce (760) 876-4444).

• An alternative to parking and hiking from Whitney Portal is the National Recreation Trail that connects the Whitney Portal Campground and Lone Pine Campground to the trailhead. This is an additional four miles of hiking with an additional 2,400 ft. in elevation gain. Parking is allowed clear of the roadway.

• All permitted Whitney hikers will receive a day or overnight parking permit that must be displayed on their vehicle. Whitney overnight hikers with valid parking passes may park at Whitney Portal for a maximum of 3 nights, if space is available. No day-use parking will be allowed after 8:00 p.m.

• A limited number of well-signed parking spaces will be available for day-users to the Whitney Portal area who are not hiking to Mt. Whitney.

• Parked vehicles without the required permit, that overstay their limit, interfere with construction activities, or are unsafely parked will be towed.

• The Inyo National Forest will honor the efforts of people who apply via the lottery for a Whitney hike. People who want to hike Whitney in 2016 are strongly encouraged to use the lottery system for the hike (please apply via www.recreation.gov).

• Many people who apply via the lottery cannot make the hike for a variety of personal reasons and the forest has re-issued those permits to “walk-ins” at the visitor center the day before or the day of for interested hikers. These walk-ins may not be available in 2016.The forest intends to manage the limited parking, in part, by limiting the walk-in permits. If there is no parking, then the walk-in permits will not be issued, or a reduced number will be issued.

• People who plan to take advantage of the walk-in process need to understand this option may not be available this year, especially in the peak of the summer which will likely be when construction is underway near Whitney Portal.

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Get Your Drone Registered

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Issues Consumer Alert on Drone Registration and Safe Drone Usage

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today issued a consumer alert to Californians regarding new requirements for the registration and regulation of drones, also known as small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS), due to the increased popularity of the technology.  According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), effective December 21, 2015, drone operators who owned their drones prior to December 21 have until February 19, 2016 to register their drones with the FAA; those who purchased a drone on or after December 21 must register their drone prior to flying it outdoors.

There is a $5 registration fee, however, individuals who register their drone before January 20 will have this fee refunded.  These new requirements apply to drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds; drones under this weight requirement need not be registered.  Drone operators who fail to properly register their drone may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

These new requirements were issued to address safety concerns stemming from the rising popularity of drones.  It is projected that in 2016, 1 million drones subject to this registration requirement will be sold in the U.S., a 145 percent increase from 2015.  In 2014, according to the FAA, there were 238 total drone incidents reported; in 2015, this number had jumped to over 650 by August.

PROPER REGISTRATION AND SAFE USE OF DRONES

You can find complete directions for registering your drone here: https://registermyuas.faa.gov/.  The Attorney General offers California consumers the following highlights regarding the registration process and the safe use of drones:

  • Drone registration should be completed online at https://registermyuas.faa.gov/ when: 1) a drone weighs between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds, 2) the drone is owned by an individual, and 3) the drone is used for recreation.  Drones that weigh less than 0.55 pounds need not be registered with the FAA.  The weight limit applies only to the flying portion of the drone.
  • Drone operators who owned their drones prior to December 21, 2015 have until February 19, 2016 to register their drones.  Those who purchased a drone on or after December 21, 2015 must register their drones with the FAA before flying outdoors.  The drone registration fee is $5.  This fee will be credited back to those who register before midnight, Eastern Standard Time, on January 20, 2016.
  • Drone registration should be done by paper (rather than online) when a drone is greater than 55 pounds, when a drone is used for commercial purposes, or when a drone is used for reasons other than merely a hobby or recreation.
  • A drone operator should always have the FAA registration certificate available, either in print or electronically, when flying a drone.  The registration certificate contains the FAA registration number, the registration’s expiration date, and the name of the drone certificate’s registrant.
  • Consumers who own multiple drones only need to register once with the FAA, and may use the same registration number on all of their drones.  Drone operators should visibly and legibly place their unique registration number on their drones.
  • To register a drone, a person must be at least 13 years old (if a drone’s operator is younger than 13 years of age, a person 13 years of age or older – such as a parent – must register the drone).  Additionally, you must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in order to receive a registration certificate from the FAA. 
  • If a drone is not registered and is used outdoors, the FAA may impose penalties of up to $27,000.  Criminal penalties for the failure to register a drone include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment.
  • A drone should be flown cautiously and safely.  It should not be flown near crowds of people or stadiums.  The FAA’s Advisory Circular on the use of model aircrafts may be found at http://www.faa.gov/documentLibrary/media/Advisory_Circular/AC_91-57A.pdf, and it provides that operators should fly drones below 400 feet and within their vision.
  • A drone should not impede, and should make way for, any manned aircraft.  Additionally, a drone should not be flown within 5 miles of an airport, unless the airport’s operator and control tower are contacted in advance.  For a list of California airports, go to http://www.faa.gov/airports/airport_safety/airportdata_5010/.  Consumers are also encouraged to review local ordinances that may be applicable to drone usage.

HELPFUL RESOURCES

The FAA’s YouTube videos on safe drone usage and drone registration are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l38WN5717jc, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XF5Q9JvBhxM, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3jwPaFp8nMg.

Information regarding the FAA’s drone registration process is available at http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/.

Questions regarding the registration of drones with the FAA may be directed to UAShelp@faa.gov.  Live telephone assistance will be provided starting on December 25, 2015, at (844) 244-3565.  For additional facts regarding the drone registration requirements, go to https://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/faqs/.

What to do if A DRONE VIOLATION OCCURS

The FAA should be contacted immediately if you suspect that a drone violation has occurred.  The FAA’s Western Regional Operations Center may be reached at (425) 227-1999, or at 9-wsa-opsctr@faa.gov.

Additionally, if you suspect that a drone is unregistered, or is being utilized in a hazardous manner, contact your local police department or sheriff’s office.  In the case of an emergency, call 911.

Finally, the California Department of Justice protects the rights of consumers and collects complaints on a wide range of issues, including drone violations to identify wrongful activity.  To submit a complaint to the California Department of Justice regarding the dangerous or unlawful use of a drone, please use one of the following complaint forms:

English: https://oag.ca.gov/contact/consumer-complaint-against-business-or-company.

Cover Drone Photo of Bishop Union High School’s John Schwab field by Jimmy T.
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Kingston looking to Downsize, Relocate Bishop Nursery

Bishop Nursery will stay open through this season

By Arnie Palu

Bob Kingston is moving forward with a housing subdivision on the property that currently houses Bishop Nursery while also actively looking for a space to relocate the business.  Kingston has owned the Bishop Nursery since the late 1990’s and says he is looking for a win/win situation for the community by providing much needed housing and keeping the popular Bishop Nursery in business.

The 15 lot Kingston Subdivision is working its way through the City of Bishop permitting process.  Kingston says the plan is to begin building shortly after the tentative tract map is approved, stressing that splitting the 2.75 acre parcel into 15 lots makes financial sense.  Local Realtor Jake Rasmuson says that as currently designed the Kingston Subdivision is consistent with the surrounding neighborhoods densities.  Kingston says the aim is to build a “small, well built, well designed community”.

Developing the subdivision on Home Street requires the demolition of the existing Bishop Nursery Building.  On Tuesday Kingston stressed his commitment to keeping the Bishop Nursery open at its current location through this season.   Kingston indicated he is currently looking for a space to relocate the nursery business that supports approximately 30 employees during their peak season.

nursery
Bob Kingston and Liz Merrill. photo by Arnie Palu
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Bishop Sticks with Stec

Bishop City Council Appoints Ted Stec Chief of Police

submitted by the City of Bishop

In the fall of 2015, the City of Bishop initiated a comprehensive search for a Chief of Police following the retirement of former Chief Chris Carter. The extremely successful recruitment process was facilitated by the Executive Search Firm, Ralph Andersen and Associates, with retired Police Chief Greg Nelson acting as lead. The process yielded 24 applicants which were put through a rigorous screening, reducing the field to 5 highly qualified candidates.
On January 5, 2016, the finalists participated in an exhaustive, individual interview process lasting approximately 90 minutes that included 22 questions covering a wide range of scenarios.

At its meeting of January 11, 2016, the Bishop City Council voted unanimously to appoint Ted Stec as the new Chief of Police. Chief Stec came to the City of Bishop in late October of 2015 to fill the role of Lieutenant/Acting Chief. Prior to coming to Bishop, the Chief spent approximately 25 years in law enforcement in Northern California, starting his career as a Police Officer with the City of Red Bluff. He then spent 5 years as a D.A. Investigator for Shasta County before moving on to Suisun City, California in 2006. Chief Stec was hired by the City of Suisun as part of a team whose mission was to rebuild the Police Department.

Ted is joined in Bishop by his lovely wife Dawn. In the two short months they have been here, the couple has already made their presence felt, participating in numerous community events as both spectators and volunteers. Please help the City Council and Staff welcome the Stecs to Bishop.

photo courtesy of the Bishop Police Department

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Pile Burning Today

Inyo National Forest burning Piles

Submitted by the Inyo National Forest

Fire crews will continue with pile burning on the Dry Creek Unit and hope to burn 55 acres of piles today (Wednesday, January 13th)  and tomorrow (Thursday, January 14th) weather conditions permitting.

The Dry Creek Unit is located west of the Crestview Rest Area. Visitors and residents may see smoke north of Mammoth Lakes and west of Hwy 395.

Pile burning safely reduces fuels that can lead to larger, more destructive fires under hot and dry conditions.

Cover Photo, File Photo provided by the Inyo National Forest

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BUHS offering Auto 101 class

Bishop Union High School offering Auto 101 Adult Class

submitted by Bishop Union High School

Bishop Union High School will again be offering an evening Auto 101 Adult Class beginning Tuesday, January 19.  Adults of all levels of experience are encouraged to enroll.  There is a $100 dollar semester fee and the class is limited to 15 students.  This class will be held on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The basics of automotive safety, equipment use and auto maintenance will be the course of study and classes will be held from 6:00 PM to 8:30 PM.  Please contact our Auto Instructor, Jerrod Davis, at 760-873-4275, ext. 254 or jdavis@bishopschools.org for more information.

Adults may enroll at Bishop Union High School Main Office with $100 cash/check/money order made payable to BUHS Auto.  Again, this class is limited to 15 students.

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Home Street Students of the Month

Home Street Middle School’s December Students of the Month

submitted by Home Street School

Home Street Middle School is proud to announce their December Students of the Month. Selections are based on academic success or improvement, community service, effort, positive attitude, or excellent citizenship. The following students will be presented with a certificate to be displayed on the Wall of Fame.

Students of the Month:

Mahdi Ayman
Kayla Rodriguez
Anaya Brown
Alexiss Armendariz
Jesus Cortez
Mercedes Jahn
Alyosha Prange
Able Franco
Sirena Lopez
Cora Lanphear
Nolan Durham
Lacey Lehigh
Karine Mora Flores
Ethan Fahey
Xavier Farmer
Anonda Marquez

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LADWP reclassifies five bridges wells

The Los Angeles Department of water and power reclassifies 2 wells in the Five Bridges area as “New Wells”

Will Conduct a CEQA Study

LADWP statement

BISHOP – Community concern surrounding the proposed testing of two recently modified wells in the Five Bridges area north of Bishop, have prompted the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to re-evaluate and treat wells W385 and W386 (now numbered as 385R and 386R) as “new wells” as defined by the Inyo/LA Water Agreement and described in the Green Book. The new classification means that LADWP will perform a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) study on the project to analyze whether operation will have significant environmental impacts and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.
“Performing a CEQA study for wells 385R and 386R is appropriate to better avoid potential significant environmental impacts,” James Yannotta, Manager of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, said. “With the activation of these wells we hope to provide water for local environmental and irrigation efforts, and provide a reliable source of water for export to Los Angeles.”
The old wells W385 and W386 were operated in the late 1980s with the intention of both dewatering gravel pits in the Five Bridges area and providing water for Los Angeles. Both wells were screened to the shallow and deep aquifer and, when operated, impacted vegetation in the Five Bridges area.
Consequently, the 1991 Environmental Impact Report (EIR) identified both wells as contributing to a significant impact to vegetation in the area and prescribed development of a mitigation measure to remediate the impact. The mitigation measure required Inyo County and LADWP to jointly develop and implement a revegetation plan for 300 acres identified in the report. This mitigation effort is ongoing.
Recently, both wells 385R and 386R were modified and screened to pump only from a deep aquifer, and will pump at a rate of less than 25 percent of their original capacity. LADWP anticipates that pumping from the deep aquifer, and at a dramatically lower rate, will protect groundwater dependent vegetation from any impacts associated with pumping. LADWP planned to conduct a thorough test to confirm this prior to putting the wells into operation. However, significant opposition to the renewed operation of these wells has been received by Inyo County and LADWP. After reviewing these concerns, LADWP agrees that further study of the area will alleviate concerns and is now reclassifying wells 385R and 386R as new wells.
LADWP thanks the community for their input during this process. The Department will adhere to the new well provisions outlined in the Inyo/LA Water Agreement in activating these and all new wells.

The goal of the Inyo/LA Water Agreement is to provide a reliable source of water for the City of Los Angeles as well as the protection of the Owens Valley environment. During a normal hydrologic year nearly one-third of Los Angeles’ water supply is supplied from the Los Angeles Aqueduct.

A large presence in the Eastern Sierra region, LADWP owns 315,000 acres in Inyo and Mono Counties and keeps nearly 75 percent of these lands open to the public for recreation. LADWP has been present in the Owens Valley for over a century and is a valuable partner in the Owens Valley community.

Cover Photo by Gary Young

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